At the core of the RIAA lawsuit process, is its initial lawsuit against a group of "John Does".
Here is how it works:
A lawsuit is brought against a group of "John Does". The location of the lawsuit is where the corporate headquarters of the internet service provider (ISP) is located.
All the RIAA knows about the people it is suing is that they are the people who paid for an internet access acount for a particular dynamic IP address.
The "John Does" may live -- and usually do live -- hundreds or thousands of miles away, and are not even aware that they have been sued.
The case may drag on for months or even years, with the RIAA being the only party that has lawyers in court to talk to the judges and other judicial personnel.
The RIAA -- without notice to the defendants -- makes a motion for an "ex parte" order permitting immediate discovery. ("Ex parte" means that one side has communicated to the Court without the knowledge of the other parties to the suit. It is very rarely permitted, since the American system of justice is premised upon an open system in which, whenever one side wants to communicate with the Court, it has to give prior notice to the other side, so that they too will have an opportunity to be heard.).
The "ex parte" order would give the RIAA permission to take "immediate discovery" -- before the defendants have been served or given notice -- which authorizes the issuance of subpoenas to the ISP's asking for the names and addresses and other information about their subscribers, which is information that would otherwise be confidential.
In the United States the courts have been routinely granting these "ex parte" orders it appears. (Not so in other countries. Both Canada and the Netherlands have found the RIAA's investigation too flimsy to warrant the invasion of subscriber privacy. Indeed the Netherlands court questioned the investigation's legality.).
Once the ex parte order is granted, the RIAA issues a subpoena to the ISP, and gets the subscriber's name and address.
The RIAA then discontinues its "John Doe" "ex parte" case, and sues the defendant in his own name in the district where he or she lives.
Thus, at the core of the whole process are:
(1) the mass lawsuit against a large number of "John Does";
(2) the "ex parte" order of discovery; and
(3) the subpoenas demanding the names and addresses of the "John Does".
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